Heads up " fire season started in June
In 2003, I lost my home in the firestorms of San Diego County. To commemorate the onset of fire season in June, I thought I would share my view from a “fire victim” perspective.
In spite of the “defensible space” mantra, many homes lost in wildfires had some kind of defensible space. It may not save your home. It helps, but you need to do more than this.
I do not understand the obsession with defensible space when there are other things you can do that may more effectively save your home.
The most important function of defensible space is it allows the fire crews – who, by the way, are risking their lives – to have easy access to your property. In talking to firefighters, they tell me that first of all, no one may even show up to save your home.
If they do and they cannot get easy access or they see flammable junk in your yard, as one of my friends told me “we’ll just move on to the next house.”
Get rid of the flammable junk around your house. Lay your hoses out where firefighters can see them so they know where your water sources are.
It is now well established that catastrophic fires are caused by wind. Flying embers can be distributed for miles. They land on a roof igniting the whole house. My home was in ashes before the fire ever reached it because of flying embers.
I think the state should offer grants for steel or fire-proof roofs especially in areas of high winds. This would be far more effective in saving homes than whacking down vegetation that shades our homes and cools the ground.
The clearing of native trees and shrubs is causing more flammable vegetation to replace it such as nonnative annual grasses and Scotch broom. These are more dangerous than manzanita because they are considered flash fuels and move a fire quickly across a landscape.
Cheatgrass and ripgut grass go up like paper with a single match. All that is holding our landscape from being taken over by nonnative plants is the islands of native plants still remaining. Remove these and you may make the situation far more dangerous – not to mention affect our wildlife. The one-size-fits-all clearing can, excuse the expression, backfires.
There are now affordable barricade gels on the market that you can spray on your home before you evacuate. We need more information about these (see http://www.firegel.com/). If you go this route, throw a barricade gel demonstration party with your neighbors. Consider it a community service.
Most fires are started by humans through arson, stupidity, or carelessness (the winners on this one are the idiots who throw cigarettes out their windows this time of year). I am amazed by how many people I have talked to who still have no idea a fire can start from a single spark.
Where are the public service messages to educate the public about things like this? Bring back Smokey the Bear and “only you can prevent forest fires.” Where is personal responsibility and human behavior in these discussions anymore?
Important: Read your homeowners insurance policy! Don’t learn what’s in it after you need it. Call your agent and discuss with them what would happen after a fire. Ask about your most valuable items. You may need separate coverage for your grandmother’s wedding ring.
Do not assume your policy will cover your highest value items. Check in with them at least once every six months to keep tabs on your policy. They may have changed something in your coverage, and no, they do not always let you know!
Take photos of everything in your house or at the least, every room. You will have to document every single item you owned before the fire. It is tedious and excruciating. Document now because your memory doesn’t always work after the trauma of losing everything. Send the photos to a friend for safekeeping.
If you are given 20 minutes to leave your house, would you be ready? When you are evacuating, your adrenaline is so high, you can’t think straight let alone decide what to take. Decide right now what you would take if you had to evacuate. Things to take include your computer CPU, insurance policy, important papers (including bills believe it or not), Social Security cards, birth certificates, photographs, family heirlooms – all the things you can never replace.
Find them and maybe even pack them up and put them by the door or in the garage where they can be easily grabbed.
It’s only June folks and we are on fire. Plan ahead.
Finally, San Diego County held a Fire Safe Fair a few years ago. This included fire-safe construction materials, technologies, alarms, and roofs. It was an incredible success. We need a fair like this in Nevada County, including a demonstration of the barricade gel products.
The bottom line is the fire you’re watching on your television set could be in your own neighborhood next week. Use this time to prepare and be thoughtful. You won’t regret the time you spend planning for a fire. You will regret it if you don’t.
V.S. Moran lives in Grass Valley.
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